As I usually do coming home from the lab, I got off the bus near the main shopping malls in the center of Tartu and began my evening walk back to the apartment. When I got to the plaza in front of City Hall (the pink building that you have seen in my photos of Tartu), I noticed there was a throng of people standing out in the damp cold in front of a small platform that had been set up in the middle of the square. The local newspaper the next morning said there
were approximately 450 people there. To me it did not seem to be that many. Loud speakers had been set up and several people mainly in their 20’s-30’s were coming on stage to speak in an orderly and peaceful way, one after the other. People occasionally clapped and there was polite cheering, as people were agreeing with things that were being said. I stopped to listen. Many had signs reading “We have had it up to here…”, “Stop with your lies”, “Freedom for Estonia”, “Restart Estonia”, etc. As I got closer, I realized this was an actual political protest in action!
I climbed up a couple of stairs to see and hear better. This protest was thankfully very orderly in
comparison to what I had seen in the U.S. when the evening news reported on the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd. The Reform Party who is the current party in power has not been in favor with everyone, not only on their stance with local issues, but also in regards to the support of EU initiatives. At the same time from what I have noticed the EU has helped tremendously to rebuild the country. So many projects around the country have been funded by the EU, including new buildings and instrumentation at Tartu University. On the other hand, restrictions imposed by the EU prevents the free expansion of the economy and people are affected by rising inflation. Salaries are not rising, except for the salaries of government officials in Tallinn who, from what I am hearing, have voted to raise their own salaries several times. Inflation is appearing with food and energy prices. Just a couple of weeks ago, the whole of Estonia was experiencing a doctors’ strike because of the low pay for doctors and nurses. Before that was a teachers’ strike. I am hearing of a lot of dissatisfaction with government handling of issues, corruption, and cronyism. It all sounds familiar…. Hence the signs and support of the young speakers who essentially feel the current party in power is trying to take over too much control and is not telling the truth to people about its actions. I only listened for a short time and began to walk away down the old cobble-stoned streets. The further away I got from the plaza, there was only the sound of my own footsteps and rain that was beginning to fall. This time the protest was done peacefully, but I wondered how many protests these old buildings and streets have experienced that have not been as peaceful. Way too many. Not only protests, but actual war, bombings, and tanks moving in. Half of Tartu has been destroyed many times during its 1200 year history, the last time being during World War II. From Europe, the Mid-East, U.S., to Asia, there is a lot of unrest in the world at present. Next morning, there was an article “Harta 12” signed by seventeen Estonians from different professions and from the other political parties who are not in power. Reading their demands, it sounded very much what I remembered from Preident Obama’s first campaign – getting more people involved, demanding transparency, more discourse…. Unfortunately in my opinion, when power changes, the same problems seem to re-emerge, regardless who is in charge.
If any of you are interested in reading about the protest in Tartu’s newspaper (in Estonian only), click on the link.
Charter 12 (Harta 12) in English can be seen at: http://www.harta12.ee/eng/